Intervals

In late fall and winter weather, life itself and my cycling seem to go in intervals.  We’ve had strong winds the last few days, winds that have pretty much completed the leaf fall (except for a stubborn Pin Oak in the front yard that threatens to shed leaves on the driveway all winter).  that means that on some days, when I need to do an hour or two of cleaning out the shrubbery beds around the house and in the back corners of the lot, I just don’t have it in me to ride outside or on the exercise bike.  I know it’s not aerobic exercise, and it’s not even decent cross training, but I’ve just had enough after that kind of outdoor effort..

And then there’s the temperature.  A deep Arctic air mass has settled over our area for a couple of weeks, and another is predicted next week.  While the average high temperature these days is a rideable 49º, the highs for several days have barely exceeded freezing, if they’ve done so at all.  That’s especially true when the near-freezing air is gusting around at 25 to 35 mph, as has been the case for much of the cold snap.  Both the leaf fall and the windy cold have made riding outside an in-and-out proposition, possible only at intervals.

Yesterday I was feeling particularly frustrated and itching for some action.  For almost two years I have been riding the exercise bike at a moderate level, at which my heart rate is at about 80% of my lactate threshold.  That threshold is the heart rate at which breathing becomes labored, at which you can no longer converse comfortably while riding.   This turns out to be about double my resting heart rate.  Aerobic exercise is regarded as sufficient if the exerciser’s heart rate is at that level for 20 minutes a session, several times a week.  Anything beyond that, or higher than that, is for other kinds of conditioning.

Several years back I prided myself on really strenuous e-bike sessions, pedaling as long as 40 to 45 minutes at a fairly high resistance level at a rate that brought my heart up to near the Maximum Heart Rate.  I finally decided that this approach was unsophisticated, and perhaps not healthy.  yet I wanted to keep pushing myself beyond a relaxed “comfort zone.”  that’s when I first discovered Intervals.  They’re intended for training outdoors on bike or on foot, but they can be useful inside too.  In interval training I go way up into the “red zone” (near 100% MHR) for 4 minutes, then totally relax for 2 minutes to bring my HR down to about that 80% of the lactate threshold, and then repeat the 4/2 alternation.  I do a total of 40 minutes, 7 blocks of “on” and six of “off.”  With each block my body performs less and less efficiently, so the level of effort which brings me up to the MHR and keeps it there drops.  That’s especially true if I am not in top shape.  This workout results in my coming up from the basement totally drained and panting, which is exactly what it’s supposed to do.  And the consequence is that when I am riding the bike I become able to perform and sustain a maximum effort far better.

About two years ago I stopped doing intervals.  I decided that they were too strenuous, and, especially last winter, I came close to the equivalent of an “intense” workout by riding on my mag trainer at a speed and resistance suitable for a higher HR.  During seasons when I usually ride my bike outside, the straightforward “spinning” workout seems to be good enough on my rare indoor occasions.  Furthermore, Intervals are not that much fun to look forward to when I’m not feeling in good shape and well focused, even though they do make the time fly past.

But yesterday my muscles demanded the intensity of an actual ride, something they’ve not experienced in some time, and so I rediscovered Intervals.  It’s good to feel worked to the max after an exercise, though I know my efforts don’t match the levels of several years ago.  That’s one of the useful results of keeping a log of my workouts.  It tells me where I am relative to where I’ve been.  And in weather when day after day has to be inside, intervals keep my body challenged and my mind honest about the kind of effort I am putting in.

[Begun 12/9/2010; completed and posted today.  I have been doing intervals every two or three sessions.]

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2011.

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